English Heritage expressed its disappointment today after Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gave the go-ahead to a controversial skyscraper development on the banks of the Mersey fuelling fears that Liverpool’s historic waterfront will now be stripped of its World Heritage Status.
Britain could now become only the third country to lose the prestigious inscription when the World Heritage Committee meets in Cambodia in June after placing the city’s mercantile Pier Head area on the in-danger register last year.
Architectural groups have warned that plans for the £5.5bn high rise development on the site of derelict dockland will create a Dubai-style skyline which will dwarf Liverpool’s Three Graces buildings.
Opponents had pinned their hopes of halting the proposed 60 hectare scheme, which will include the 55-storey Shanghai Tower as well as 9,000 flats, retail space, hotels, bars and a cruise terminal, on Mr Pickles ordering a public inquiry.
But he wrote to Liverpool City Council this week to wave through the proposal insisting that local councillors were best placed to decide how to proceed. The council granted planning permission to developers Peel Holdings last year.
It is anticipated the 30-year project will lead to an eventual 30,000 jobs on Merseyside and spearhead the economic renaissance of the city. In a statement English Heritage said Mr Pickles’ decision failed to acknowledge alternative proposals which would have less impact on the celebrated buildings of the waterfront.
“We have always felt that it would have been possible to develop a scheme that delivered jobs and growth and which enhanced rather than harmed Liverpool's outstanding heritage. We are therefore very disappointed that Peel failed to take this opportunity and insisted that the current scheme was the one on which a decision must be taken," a spokeswoman said.
Peel, whose holdings include MediaCity UK, the Manchester Ship Canal and the Trafford Centre, said work could start as early as next year provided market conditions improve. The developer is also working on a vast regeneration project across the river at Birkenhead docks.
Development director at Peel, Lindsey Ashworth, said: “This is a well-deserved reward and justice for all those who never gave up supporting this scheme - the Government is now demonstrating its support for Liverpool Waters too.
“A big thank you goes to the people of Liverpool who have been behind this project all the way. The weight of our argument has succeeded in overcoming significant objections from both English Heritage and the World Heritage Body Unesco.”
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said the city’s waterfront heritage would still be protected. “This announcement marks the start of a new era for Liverpool, paving the way to us delivering a world-class development which will transform a part of the city in desperate need of investment for decades. Liverpool Waters will create thousands of jobs and opportunities for local people, as well as providing new housing and attracting new businesses and visitors,” he said.
Inspectors from Unesco warned last year that the scheme threatened to leave the historic maritime mercantile environment around the Pier Head “irreversibly damaged” placing it on the threatened list alongside sites in Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has since submitted a state of conservation report to Unesco officials which will be considered in the summer at a meeting of the 21-strong committee.
One source said there was now a “strong possibility” Liverpool would join Dresden’s Elbe Valley and the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman, the only other sites to be stripped of World Heritage Status for pushing ahead with development.
The area in Liverpool, which includes the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building, was inscribed in 2004 at the request of the UK Government ranking it alongside the Taj Mahal and Stonehenge.
English Heritage previously described the Liverpool Waters plans as “muddled, badly drafted and insufficiently precise”. The Government’s design watchdog Design Council CABE has queried the environmental credentials of the new buildings and described the plan as “generic and vague”.